Institutions make me itchy. See, God has planted within me a deep mistrust for human authority (which is how I know God has wicked sense of humor since God also has given me a cop for a wife, but I digress). I get all itchy when I see what for all the world looks to me like the ways institutions create more barriers to relationship with God than they do open doors. This raw wool scarf that has wrapped itself around my mind goes all sandpapery when it seems to my suspicious eyes like a book of rules written by humans (to frame who is in and who is out) is more highly regarded and more often discussed than the Gospel. Which leads to a question I ask with some regularity. Why are you still a ________? There are Christian churches, whole denominations, where you are affirmed and welcomed into the full life of the church. So what is it about being _____ that is still so compelling? (Yeah, I hear the judgement in my voice too, sigh).
So I decided to ask queer folk who are Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics and any other ans, ists and ics to talk with us here about why they are still committed to their traditions when the institutions actively seek to have them live partial or false lives that separate them from God. I still don’t understand but I really am trying to listen.
First up is my close friend John, a life-long United Methodist, seminary grad and a kick ass trombone player in Atlanta’s big gay marching band. I’m sure he’s sick of me asking this question but agreed to answer it for this new series…10 reasons why I’m still a…
I’ve been a United Methodist by birth for 30 years. I’ve been United Methodist by conscious choice for most of that time. I’ve been out of the closet as an openly gay man for going on five of those years.
A question that is often raised in queer faith circles is why those of us who are members of denominations that don’t fully embrace our full humanity are still members of those denominations. I’m going to attempt to come up with ten reasons about why I am a United Methodist. You may agree or disagree, that is your option. I don’t speak for anyone but myself, my beliefs, and my experience.
1. For better or worse, the village that raised me was made up of a United Methodist pastor (my father), a Christian Educator (my mother), my sisters, United Methodists ministers and their families from all over western Ohio, and the membership of three congregations that my father served. I have, over the years, developed a fierce bond of loyalty to the United Methodist Church because of this village and all it gave to me.
2. The people who make up the United Methodist Church are so much more than the policies and procedures of the church. The love that I feel when I visit most United Methodist churches can be found in other churches, this is true. But to walk into a sanctuary and be welcomed by people who follow in the way of John Wesley’s teachings comforts me in a way that must be felt, not described.3. John Wesley is awesome. He taught that one must be fed before one can learn about anything else and the United Methodist Church takes this message to heart.
4. There have been times when the United Methodist Church and I have had our moments of dischord. These most often happen at large gatherings where decisions are made and legislation voted on. However, it is at these very meetings where I am often reminded of how beautiful and diverse the UMC is. People who believe as I do and people who don’t can, no – are encouraged – to come together at the same table and discuss their differences in a Christian environment. Dischord is cherished while love abounds and surrounds it.
5. The United Methodist Church is home to some of the most wonderful pastors you will ever meet. I’ve been a member of UMC congregations in three states now and the pastors in all three have been truly amazing and wonderful people. Did I agree with all of them on all points? No. Did they agree with me on all points? No. But they welcomed and still welcome me and don’t preach hate of the unknown from their pulpits.
6. Regardless of how I identified in my congregations of choice over the years, I was welcomed and encouraged to lead and participate in whatever ways I felt comfortable or called. I’ve taught Sunday School, sung in choirs, led worship, and kept the internet running.
7. While some congregations and pastors would just see a gay man walking through the door and shun him, I have been welcomed and encouraged to join congregations. While I don’t walk in the door with a giant rainbow flag, I am open about who I am and this one part of my humanity has so far not hindered my participation in the congregations I have and am a part of.
8. Potlucks are awesome. I’ve found a plate of devilled eggs are my passport into any congregation’s heart.
9. There’s a certain comfort to knowing, at least on a base level, what a congregation believes and understanding how the structure works. For better or worse, the United Methodist Church’s structure and theology are two things that I understand very well.
10. My current congregation is a huge part of why I am still a United Methodist. After eight years of serving in a volunteer capacity in the international level of the denomination, I was weary of the machine and was ready to go back to being a “pew sitting” Christian. If I hadn’t found the church where I attend now at the exact point in my life that I did, I’m not sure where I would be attending now. But, thanks to a loving congregation, an amazing pastor, the suggestion of wonderful woman who used to attend the church, and the Holy Spirit, I am a United Methodist.
John is a lifelong United Methodist who works to bridge the gap between technology and theology as an IT professional and volunteer church techie. He enjoys playing his trombone in the Atlanta Freedom Bands, Atlanta’s GLBT concert, marching and jazz band.